'COA chiefs involved in Garcia case cover-up'

By David Dizon, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Feb 01 2011 01:18 PM | Updated as of Feb 02 2011 02:50 AM

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - A former employee of the Commission on Audit (COA) on Tuesday accused her former boss of being involved in shenanigans while she was conducting an audit of Armed Forces transactions under military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia.

Speaking before the House justice panel, former COA auditor Heidi Mendoza said she was told by then COA Chairman Guillermo Carague in 2005 not to write a report on her findings about Garcia's transactions since the Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo had already resigned.

She said Mendoza even offered her a job posting in the US if she dropped her investigation.

"The chairman said: 'Wag ka nang sumulat ng report tutal nag resign na si Ombudsman. Heidi, this is not a COA audit. It is an Ombudsman investigation...it is alright to pack up your things. I have been hearing good things about you. If you want, you can continue your consultancy or if you want you will be posted in international audit," Mendoza quoted Carague as saying.

Mendoza was the leader of an 11-man team of auditors who investigated transactions of the AFP during the time of Garcia as military comptroller. Garcia was accused of taking more than P300 million in military funds while in active service.

In her opening statement, the COA auditor told lawmakers she was giving up her career and risking her family's safety in order to testify at the Lower House.

Breaking into tears, she said she resigned from her job at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) "because I could not hide behind the comforts of a job inside ADB while people are running after me and trying to get to the bottom of the truth."

"I have risked my family. I have given up my career not to convict a general or expose the truth of the irregularity in an institution such as the AFP or not to shed the truth that even the COA is part of the shenanigans of all these thins but simply because in my heart, there is no place for governance and anti-corruption no matter how committed I am if I will not to tell my people what I discovered in the course of my audit at the AFP," she said.

Mendoza said that at the start of her COA audit, she was already warned by COA Commissioner Emmanuel Dalman to "go slow in the investigation."

"Sabi niya dahan-dahan lang kasi tinawagan tayo ng Palasyo," she recounted. She added that the call allegedly came from the Office of the Executive Secretary.

Former Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, meanwhile, denied ever calling the COA about the Garcia case.

UN peacekeeping money

The COA auditor said she uncovered various anomalies despite the difficult task of sorting through improperly maintained financial records at the AFP.

The anomalies include the transfer of P200 million from a Landbank account owned by the military to 2 separate United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) accounts. She said the transaction raised several red flags: 1) Only P50 million was credited to UCPB Alfaro branch; 2) Only P150 million had deposit slips; and, 3) the UCPB branch manager said the P50 million reflected in the passbook was in another UCPB branch.

The P200 million was given by the United Nations for  the expenses of Filipino soldiers involved in UN peacekeeping missions.

Mendoza said she also found 2 separate bank accounts in General Santos City and Iloilo during the time of Garcia and former military comptroller Jacinto Ligot that were used as clearing accounts for the UN funds.

She said the UN funds were usually in dollars but were converted to pesos once remitted to the clearing accounts. The money was then transferred to the accounts of the military but only after they had earned interest.

"Walang mawawala but the float will be credited to the owner of the bank account," Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez noted.

Mendoza said that before she resigned from COA in 2005, the US Department of Justice legal attache Jeff Cole asked the COA if she would be allowed to audit the UN fund that was remitting money for the expenses of Filipino peacekeepers.

She said one of the questionable transactions being eyed was a $5 million check that was personally picked up by an AFP officer but was not reflected in the AFP records.

She, however, added that Carague turned down Cole's request to assign her to the audit. It was after the COA chief's action that she filed her resignation.

During the hearing, Justice panel chairman Niel Tupas said he will summon Carague and Dalman to the next hearing to shed light on Mendoza's revelations.

Present COA said Garcia case not plunder

Mendoza appeared before the Sandiganbayan 16 times to testify on the anomalies she discovered before her resignation.

During her investigation, she politely refused special treatment at the Armed Forces such as free gasoline.

She said that during one of her trips to Camp Aguinaldo, an ordinary soldier looked at her ID and said: "Tulungan mo naman kaming ipakulong ang mga nagnakaw sa kaban ng bayan (Please help us put in jail those who are stealing from the country's coffers)."

Mendoza said Special Prosecutors Joseph Capistrano and Jose Balmeo were clearly committed in winning the plunder case against Garcia despite lack of support from the government, civil society and the media.

She said she and Capistrano even vowed to walk naked from the Sandiganbayan building to Welcome Rotonda if the Garcia case was dismissed.

Mendoza said she opposed the plea bargaining agreement with Garcia because she knew a lot of people would reject it.

She said Capistrano even called her last December 2010 and asked if they had her commitment in supporting the Office of the Special Prosecutor's position on the plea bargain. She said Capistrano told her it was Sandiganbayan justices Samuel Martirez, Teresita Diaz-Baldos and Edilberto Sandoval who were asking about her "commitment."

A few days after Capistrano's phone call, she said Edna Fortu of the Commission on Audit called her and said COA Chairman Reynaldo Villar wanted to talk to her.

She said Fortu told her that the Garcia case was not plunder since there was only a missing P35 million being linked to the former military comptroller.

"I was the only non-resident auditor who testified in the case," she said.

She said she told Fortu: "Paano yun? Wala kayong makukuhang magsasabi niyan."

It was on that day, December 23, 2010, when Mendoza filed her resignation with the ADB so that she could tell everything she knew about the Garcia case.

She said that as a daughter of a policeman, she wanted to give a face to ordinary Filipino workers in government who are not corrupt and who choose to remain upright despite rampant corruption.